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2014 Holiday and Christmas Gift Guide for the Women in Your Life

Each year I put together some holiday and Christmas gift guides for the people in your life.  Wendy wrote the first one and here is my first one; a holiday and Christmas guide for the women in your life.  Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Star K Heart Shape 8mm Love Pendant

Star K Heart Shape 8mm Love Pendant

The alluring Original Star K Heart Shape 8mm Love Pendant, crafted in 925 Sterling Silver. This beautiful design is set with 1 Heart Shape stone prong set , 1 stone prong set colorless Round Cubic Zirconia. This product measures 8.00 mm wide, 18.00 mm long and is a great looking while affordable necklace and pendant.

Big Jambox

Wendy has always loved music and has always wanted a massive stereo system.  Since we have a small home, the dream has never come true.  Lucky for Wendy there are some excellent compact speaker systems as options. Here are a few of them.

I have traditionally recommended the Bose Wave home audio system.  It provides legendary sound, is $499 but has fallen behind the times.  It bugs me that even with the new version you have to add an optional and costly Bluetooth receiver to stream music wirelessly from your iPod.  Yet if the women you are shopping for still prefers CDs to iTunes, it is probably the best audio system you can get for her.

For the iPod/Android crowd, I am suggesting you get her a Big Jambox.  

Jambox Big Jambox Speakers

The Big Jambox turns any mobile device (phone, tablet, media player, computer) into a portable, hi-fi sound system that wirelessly delivers amazingly clear, full audio at any volume.  Exclusive LiveAudio technology lets you experience your music like never before—as if you’re sitting front row, hearing it live. This immersive, three-dimensional listening experience brings incredible depth, detail, and unprecedented spatial realism to everything from mp3s to special binaural recordings. It’s like hearing your favorite music and audio content for the first time — the way it was meant to be heard.

Olympus E-PL7 16MP Compact System Camera with 3-Inch LCD with 14-42mm IIR Lens

Olympus PEN E-EL7 camera

I bought Wendy an Olympus PEN last year and she loved it.  Over the year we added a couple of lens (I recommend the Olympus 40-150mm, the Olympus 45mm f1.8 (Wendy’s favourite lens), the Sigma 19mm, 30mm and 60mm prime lens) a new ThinkTank sling bag, and some other gear.   The result was we took a couple of thousand photos over 2014 and had a great time together.  

The advantage of a mirrorless camera system like Micro 4/3 system (which is used by Olympus and Panosonic) is the size of the cameras and the lenses.  It means in practical terms that you take this camera places you would not take a DSLR.  With 16 megapixel sensors, good (but not amazing) low light sensitivity (if you want great, you need a Sony A7s), you get amazing photos that you can enlarge to almost any size.

If you want something small but with a traditional DSLR form factor, take a look at the Olympus OMD E-M10 for $750.

Canon T5i with 18-135mm lens

If she is looking for more traditional DSLR, then look at the Canon Rebel T5i with the 18-135 lens.  She will be impressed at how simple it is to create breathtaking photos with ease. The incredible image quality and performance starts with an 18.0 Megapixel sensor and Canon’s DIGIC 5 Image Processor. A continuous shooting speed of up to 5.0 fps allows for fast action capture. 9 cross-type AF focus points help ensure crisp focus throughout the frame, and the Hybrid CMOS AF system enables speedy and accurate autofocus when shooting in Live View mode. In addition, the camera is compatible with Canon STM lenses for smooth, quiet AF performance.

You get full HD video, the ability to plug in a shotgun or lavaliere microphone, and access to the enormous Canon EF-S lens family.  You can get a kit with a 18-55mm lens but for the extra $200, the extra range of the 18-135mm lens is worth it.

Samsung Chromebook 

Samsung Chromebook

Samsung’s Chromebook laptop has been deemed by many to be a success. Lightweight, inexpensive and practical as everything operates off your Google Drive, the Chromebook is great for any career woman on the move.

Jean Dubost Laguiole 3-Piece Cheese Knife Set

Jean Dubost Laguiole 3-Piece Cheese Knife Set is a great holiday gift for anyone who loves hosting a great dinner party and doing so in style. 

This set of cheese service knives includes a spreader for soft cheeses like Montrachet a serving knife for Gruyere and Gouda and a cleaver for hard cheeses such as Parmigiano. Sparkling stainless steel handles carry the signature logo of the Laguiole ‘Bee’. A wooden gift and storage box completes this gourmet set.

 
Gold Pendent
Initial jewelry is all the rage. The 14k Gold Circle Disk Letter “A” Pendant showcases a simple yellow-gold design. Resting from an 18-inch cable chain is a gentle yellow gold disk. A capital letter is engraved in the middle of the disk, to personalize the pendant. The simple design is a jewelry box must-have for accessorizing a day-to-day look. A wonderful gift for the holidays.
 
Fast and convenient, the AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker makes one of the best cups of coffee you’ll ever taste. This innovative uses the ideal water temperature and gentle air pressure brewing to produce coffee and espresso that has rich flavor with lower acidity and without bitterness. It makes 1 to 4 cups of coffee or espresso (enough for 1 or 2 mugs), features a micro filtered for grit free coffee, and takes just 1 minute to make coffee (actual press time takes only 20 seconds).  It’s the number one selling coffee press on Amazon for a reason.
 
Aeropress Coffee

Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

Wendy works full time and then has to come home to a household of two sons and me.  In other words she puts up with days that make mine seem like a meditation retreat.  Give your wife a break from the chaos with these noise cancelling headphones.  If you are on a budget, check out the Sony MDR-NC7 Noise Cancelling headphones for about $40 or JVC HANC250 Noise Cancelling Headphones for about $120.  I leant Wendy my noise cancelling headphones for a flight to Winnipeg.  She never gave them back.  She will love a pair.
I’m a Mom…
 

I'm a Mom

She’ll love this mug.
 
The R H Forschner by Victorinox Chef’s Knife features an 8-inch blade that is 2-inches wide at the handle. High carbon, stainless steel blade is hand finished at Victorinox in Switzerland by skilled craftsmen. A special tempering process is used to produce an edge that can be resharpened over and over again, so the knife can keep its original sharpness throughout the entire life of the blade.
 

Victorinox 8-inch Chef's Knife

If you are looking for an entire knife block set, check out the Zwilling J.A. Henckels 7-pc Knife Block Set for $120 which is almost $150 off.  The set includes an 8-inch chef’s knife, a 5-inch serrated utility knife, a 4-inch paring knife, and a 2-1/2-inch peeling knife, as well as a sharpening steel and a pair of shears. All components fit within an 11-slot hardwood block, which offers four extra slots for future knife acquisitions.  She’ll love it. You’ll love it.  You’ll pass them on to your kids.
 
Teavana PerfecTea 16 oz Tea Maker
 
It brews the perfect cup of tea every time.  It is the most efficient, simple and clean way to steep tea. Simply add tea and water at the correct temperature, then put the tea maker on your favorite mug to drain. 
 
Teavana Tea Steeper
 
 
WKRP in Cincinnati
 
Like most people with a sense of humour, Wendy is a huge WKRP in Cincinnati fan.  Join everyone’s favorite radio DJs—the rockin’ Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) and the soulful Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid)—as they weave through the inner-office antics of the crazy WKRP staff; including the station’s program director Andy (Gary Sandy), indecisive manager Arthur (Gordon Jump), advertising executive Herb (Frank Bonner) and, of course, the station’s lovely receptionist, Jennifer (Loni Anderson). So sit back and enjoy the sound of uproarious laughter as you watch all episodes of this iconic series.
 
Of course the reason why it was so long of wait to be released was the hassle in obtaining the rights for the original music.  This set has 90% of the music in the set.  The missing music is the music industry being, well the music industry.
 
 
I have a Nike+ Fueband and when I use it, it works great.  It has been supplanted in both men and women’s minds by the FitBit Flex activity tracker.  It tracks steps, distance, and calories burned and shows you how you’re stacking up against your daily goals. At night, it tracks your sleep cycle, helps you learn how to sleep better, and wakes you silently in the morning. Access your stats anytime on your computer, tablet or from leading smartphones – both iPhone and Android.
 
In the age of tablets, Kindles often get relegated in our minds.  If you are buying for a serious reader, there really is only one option and that is a Kindle.  Wired gave it’s predecessor the Kindle Paperwhite a score of 9/10 which is the highest score they have ever given.  Then they come out this year and say the Kindle Voyage is even better.
 
Kindle Voyage
Here is what you want to know: Yes, the Kindle Voyage is better than the Kindle Paperwhite. It’s thinner, faster, brighter, lighter, newer, has a better screen, has more memory (4GB vs last year’s Paperwhite’s 2GB) commands more magical elf armies, owns a Ferrari, and is nicer to your grandmother.

You can get the Kindle Paperwhite for $119 or the Kindle Voyage for $200.  Remember the Voyage commands elf armies which could come in handy.

So there you go.  I assume I have forgotten, many, many ideas so let me know what I have forgotten the comments below.  You can check out the other Christmas and holiday gift guides while you are at it.

17 years ago today

Wendy and I were married 17 years ago yesterday.  Next year our relationships will reach adulthood.

As anniversaries go it was really boring.  I have only had food poisoning a couple of times in my life and both times it has happened on our anniversary so in this case, non-eventful is good.

This morning we got up and got Mark to Bedford Road so he could get ready to play in the Charity Bowl.  Then it was off to Gordie Howe Bowl to watch him play.

Mark has started all of his games at linebacker this season.  Five minutes before the game he was told he would be playing starting defensive half back and then as he went out he was told to play cornerback.  If you have played football, being told to go out and play a position which you have never even practiced for a second is a recipe for disaster but he performed well and had no passes completed against him and had a couple of tackle.  Bedford won in a blowout so it all worked out well.

This year he has played linebacker, cornerback and defensive line.  Again, the body types required to play defensive line and cornerback are generally exclusive to each position but he held his ground and did well so we are proud of him.  Most importantly, Bedford Road just had their parent-teacher interviews and he is doing well academically.  So far that make Grade 9 a success.

Of course the Charity Bowl is a great Saskatoon tradition and all of the money that was raised today goes to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Saskatoon.

To keep with the football theme today, I gave Wendy a new Saskatchewan Roughrider jersey and got her a new Starbucks mug and some Pineapple tea.  I was nervous about giving her a big thing of pineapple tea since she hates ham and pineapple pizza but as long as she doesn’t pour it on her pizza, she should be okay.  She turned around and got me a Bluetune Bluetooth player which was great.

After meeting Janice Braden for coffee, we had a noisy supper at Alexander’s.  Not sure what was going on but we were the only couple not in suits and without speakers in our ears.  We had planned on going to The Oddcouple but neither of us felt that hungry after a big lunch.

Of course it was about then that my phone started to go off because council had decided to end the transit lockout.  So if I got this right, Saskatoon City Council took 28 days and a failed labour board ruling to get right back to where were a month ago politically after affecting the lives of thousands with no gain.  People lost their jobs, couldn’t get to appointments, businesses were hurt, and families disrupted for absolutely nothing.

Then I was able to watch councillors go on Twitter and say, “We made the right choice”.  Feel free to help me out with this but I can’t find a historical comparison to an elected body that his this clueless.  I want to talk about the Devine governments with Fair Share Saskatchewan and privatizing SaskEnergy but they had an opposition.  Saskatoon City Council did this all by themselves to themselves.  That almost seems like incompetence without precedent.

Winnipeg’s City Council often rivals ours for incompetence but I think Saskatoon has won this contest.  It’s so weird because at least 8 of the 11 of them do their work, show up at meetings, and read their books.  They can ask intelligent questions and for the most part show capable political instincts.  Yet something goes wrong when they go behind closed doors.  

Of course there are all sorts of interesting questions to be asked.  Mainly what is the administrations role in this and who is running the show at City Hall.  Is it the administration or the council.  I have heard several comments from admin and staff who seem to suggest that administration thinks it is running the show in the city and that council is just there to give some advice.  In fact, even the Mayor’s recent comments make me think he thinks that.  So if that is case, this could have happened in a vacuum of a lack of leadership from city council.  Either way, a lot of lives were affected for nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

Photobomb

Mark photobombing Wendy

Mark photobombing Wendy as we are about to walk out the door to go to Nuit Blanche.

Wendy’s perspective of Nuit Blanche

Wendy's shots from Nuit Blanche

Wendy has a great post of photos that she took at Nuit Blanche.  They are some of her best shots in a fairly challenging low light setting.

Our Family Adventure with the 2014 Ford Escape

It’s been a long summer but one of the highlights was spending some time with the 2014 Ford Escape.  I reviewed in 2013 and the SUV is essentially the same.  Instead of just driving it around Saskatoon (done that before), I decided to take it on the road.  This is after all where a crossover is supposed to come in useful isn’t it (that and as a hockey kid taxi).  So the four of us got up really early one Sunday and took a long one day drive from Saskatoon to Drumheller and back.   It’s around 1000km in a day if you are keeping track.  At the end of the trip we were going to either love or hate the 2014 Ford Escape.

2014 Ford Escape Titanium Edition

We packed relatively light.  Even though it was a brand new vehicle we tossed our emergency kit in the back, three camera bags, a cooler, and some extra jackets in case the weather forecast was horribly wrong.  That took up about 5% of the rear cargo space.

After hitting Rosetown for breakfast where we met this old-timer, we made a brief stop at Alsask to show the kids the old NORAD radar dome  

Alsask Radar Dome

Alsask Radar Dome

Ford Escape meets giant dinosaur in Drumheller

We got into Drumheller at about noon where the Ford Escape met this guy.   I know I signed something that stopped people from smoking in the Ford Escape, I couldn’t remember if I was covered by stampeding dinosaurs.  So I sent Mark and Oliver up to deal with the T-Rex.

Mark and Oliver with the T-Rex

After an epic struggle, they subdued the beat and saved the Escape.

I have driven from Saskatoon to Calgary many times and each time (generally at Hanna), I would get out and feel the pain in my back after four long hours of driving.  This time it was completely different and here is why  With the Escape, there was none of that.  The air conditioner kept the kids cool while the heated seats kept Wendy and I feeling a lot more comfortable.  If only they had a back massage feature.

After lunch we checked the GPS for directions to the Atlas Coal Mine.  It couldn’t find it.  It found every other little attraction in Drumheller but missed this one.  Obviously Ford downloads these attractions from a database but I was surprised a National Historic Site was not on it.  Ironically enough Siri with it’s much despised Apple Maps found us a way and we arrived after our failed conversation with Ford Sync.  Apple 1 – Ford Sync 0.

Arriving at Atlas Coal Mine

Once at the Atlas Coal Mine, I discovered the true value of the Ford Escape.  We explored an abandoned wooden bridge (which was home to rattlesnakes) and was almost completely rotten.

Wooden Bridge at Atlas Coal Mine

Explored the mine site

Rusty and abandoned trucks

Wendy stumbled onto a model shoot

Photo shoot at Atlas Coal Mine

 

We took a mine tour

Oliver chimping on his camera

Mark and Oliver at the Atlas Coal Mine

Climbed the “walk from hell” (this is important)

Atlas Coal Mine

Where I tore my right quad and put myself in incredible pain (not all Ford reviews have happy endings).  After heading back down the “walk from hell” (it’s what the miners called it), I limped back to the waiting Ford Escape while the family kept exploring (thanks guys!)

Guide at the Atlas Coal Mine

The pain was incredible, my leg was almost useless and I limped back to the vehicle in incredible pain.  I got in and actually had to lift my leg inside, turned on the Escape, turned on the a/c and turned on the heated seat.  It didn’t take away the pain but facing a five hour trip back to Saskatoon and realizing how much better it made my leg feel, it was amazing. (and made me add a tensor bandage and A535 to my emergency kit) when I got back into Drumheller.

I felt good enough to limp out and explore the Star Mine Suspension Bridge in Rosedale.  While I never recommend walking on a moving suspension bridge with a torn quad, the heat kept it from getting really bad.

Star Mine Suspension Bridge

18 hours after, one rattlesnake sighting, two provinces, one radar dome, one torn quad, 1000 kms, three McDonald’s and one A&W run later, we rolled back into Saskatoon.  Instead of whining and complaining despite being well past their bedtimes, the boys hopped out the car and Oliver said that was fun.  He then hugged the Ford Escape goodnight.  Yeah you read that right, after an 18 hour day, my six year old hugged the Escape.  

It was then I realized why you want a 2014 Ford Escape.  It is a lot of fun to drive in the city and the highway.  It’s safe and like I wrote about the 2013 Ford Escape, it saved my families life when a guy lost control on icy roads.  It looks great.  Sirius XM radio is a lot of fun.

All of that is amazing but you buy one because the Escape facilitates fun times together with others.  Whether that is an epic road trip with family or a weekend getaway with friends, it made a great trip better.  It made a long day seem shorter.  It made an improbable one day trip possible.  It is small enough to be fun to drive but large enough that you can bring people along.  It is everything a SUV should be.  Since the first time I drove the Ford Escape, I fell in love with it and said that it was my favourite vehicle to drive.  Since then it has become my families favourite vehicle as well.  It facilitates fun.

You can read all about the technical specs here but in the end, they add up to one thing; great times spent together.

Some observations

  • I have been reviewing Ford cars for three years.  Oliver is now six and since her first saw the Ford Sync GPS display, he has been fascinated.  He sits in the back seat on a painful angle the entire time so he can see the display.  That hasn’t changed.  I hope to review a Ford car in 2015 just to see how long this continues.  It’s weird.  Of course the one advantage of Ford Sync GPS screens is not navigation but the fact that you never hear, “Are we there yet?”
  • The bad thing about turn by turn instructions is that if you deviate off your course to take the scenic route (which I did), everyone panics and start back seat driving.  Wendy is chirping at me, the boys are chirping at me.  Sync is telling to “turn right, turn right, turn right”.  I’m like, I just want see some scenery!  EVERYONE CALM DOWN and Sync is still going, “turn right, turn right, turn right”.  Why does no one trust me?!
  • The Escape is fast.  Shockingly fast for a SUV.  Very comfortable to drive on a two lane highway.  When I wanted to pass, I could.
  • The Sync still crashes.  Every Ford vehicle I have reviewed has had something go wrong with the Sync.  The last time it wasn’t that bad but it asked me to go to a dealer.  Turning the Escape off and on rebooted it (it is from Microsoft after all).  Instead of asking me to go to a dealer, it should just say, restart your car.  It’s not a big thing but I can’t believe it still does this.  Then again, Microsoft.  I should be used to it by now.
  • Speaking of taking the scenic route, you will take more of them.  The handling of the Escape is great and it kind of calls out for winding roads and rolling hills.  A lot of fun.
  • Even though the body design is older, it still turns heads.  As I was limping towards the Star Mine Suspension Bridge someone turned and said, “that is a nice looking SUV”.  

If you want more information about a Ford Escape, check out Ford’s website or stop by any Ford dealer (like Jubilee Ford or Merlin Ford Lincoln in Saskatoon)

Also thanks to Wendy for taking some of the better photos from this trip.  She posted some of her favourites to her weblog.

First Day of Grade 1

Oliver on the first day of grade 1

Today was Oliver’s first day of Grade 1.  After school we went for a walk by Mayfair Library and I took this photo.  Below is Mark at the same age and rocking the denim jacket.

Mark Cooper in 2006

Grade 9

Mark Cooper in 2014

Mark starts high school tomorrow.  He will wander out of here around 8:30 a.m. and is headed towards Bedford Road Collegiate where he will spend the next three and a half years of his life.  He is talking about joining the Royal Canadian Navy after that so he can see the world before deciding on a career.  We will see if the RCN has any floating ships left before he decides on his next step.

It was a hard decision for him to go to Bedford Road.  He had wanted to go to E.D. Feehan High School but the lack of a football team doomed that decision.  The lack of many sports made it exciting for him to go.  He looked at Mount Royal and Marion M. Graham Collegiate and Bishop James Mahoney as well but the time on the bus was going to be significant.  No one wants that long of commute just to go to high school.

Bedford Road Collegiate

The response from teachers and educators over him going to Bedford Road was tepid at best and downright hostile and discouraging at worse.  Neighbors and friends had reservations.  A friend of the families kid was robbed and then hit hard with a chain.  Another kid was robbed at knife point.  Saskatoon Public School Board teachers called the kids “rough”, “unteachable”, and talked of physical intimidation in the classroom.  Two teachers told me they would resign rather than be appointed to Bedford.  I don’t know if that was just talk but there are some polarizing feelings about the school. Considering it wasn’t a decision I was fond of in the first place (bad things always happened to me when I was in Bedford Road when I was a student) we really spent some time looking at our options and deciding what was best for Mark.  

In defence of Bedford I was told of crime and thugs everywhere in the city.  That may be true but according to Saskatoon Police Service crime maps, there is a propensity of violent and serious property crime in 2014 (and continuing throughout the spring) in Caswell Hill (and Mayfair).  Assaults, robberies, drug related offences.  It is all there and in a higher concentration then in other surrounding neighbourhoods in the city.  Crime happens in the neighbourhood and the neighbourhoods where it’s students come from.

At the end of the day, crime is bad in our neighbourhood which has not been fun for the boys (it was last summer they were accosted by a high prostitute at 2:30 p.m. on a Tuesday) and of course 2013 was the summer of gunshots and prostitutes working our street (which has stopped thankfully).

So yeah there is a basis for teachers to be concerned, I am not sure why all of the negativity that goes around Bedford (well I do actually, I have disliked the school since my friends stereo was stolen and then the guy tried to resell it back to us which there for a basketball game) and from westside teachers in general about being in inner city schools.  I have heard the complaints about the lack of fundraising from parents (I was foolish enough to think that taxes paid for my kids education) to school fees not being paid on time (We know of one kid that was picking bottles to pay for his school fees this year), to a lack of school supplies.  I am not sure it’s right to hate the kids for the environment that they come from.

I can’t speak to the physical intimidation part.  I am 6’4.  I am not physically intimidated by much anymore yet Wendy who is a foot shorter doesn’t feel a lot of fear in her workplace and it can and often is violent (shoplifters, drunks, drugs, mental health).  Maybe there is a desensitization that happens that I am missing and that some don’t have.  Maybe they shouldn’t be teaching on the westside and perhaps it is a flaw of the system that allows teachers to teach kids they don’t like or fear.

I also think the city does it weird with allowing Mark to go to any school he wants.  It creates a system where his friends who want to ride the bus or have parents that wish to drive them daily, can go to any high school in the city and creates a weird feeling for those that “have” to go to their neighbourhood schools.  In the case of E.D. Feehan, you have a school in a slow death spiral because why would you want to go to a school that has no amenities when you can go the new and cutting edge Bethlehem High School.

Finally, I think the school board has a morale problem when you have teachers speaking so poorly about Bedford Road and about the westside to parents and students.  Those teachers are speaking about not just a school but their own colleagues and are prejudging students before the summer is over and the school year has begun.

Oddly enough the extremely poor teachers Mark has had previously makes it easier to disregard the advice about Bedford (he has had more good teachers than bad but he bad one was so bad I don’t think he would have survived a second year).  Despite the degree, some people aren’t wired to teach some kids.  Hopefully he finds teachers that are wired to teach, coach, and mentor and they out number the ones that don’t want to be there.

Mark will do fine but the process leading up tomorrow left me with a bit of a sick feeling in my stomach.

Oliver & Wendy

Oliver and Wendy

This just cracked my 50 most interesting photos of all time on Flickr.  Oliver loved the Fringe but was overcome by a touch of the flu.  He was so sick that he actually turned down ice cream (his loss, my gain).  It was part of a larger group of photos I took at the 2014 Fringe Theatre Festival.

Mark’s Cell Phone

I gave Mark an Sony Xperia J last Christmas which he loved.  He thought it was the greatest phone ever, even if it wasn’t.  The Sony Xperia J has a memory problem that means that it doesn’t handle apps well.  I am not sure why this version of Android on this phone acts so poorly but according to the tech forums, it does.

The phone broke this summer and all of a sudden Mark’s attitude changed for the better.  So much that we had some very long talks about it.  He told me he missed being able to talk to his friends and Wendy and I via text but he didn’t really miss his phone very much.  He was kind of glad that he didn’t have it around.  He was funnier, more laid back, and said he was sleeping better.

It wasn’t the phone that was the problem, it was that he would find some time and play some games that would keep him on it for hours.  He was like a lot of youth, addicted to their phone.

So we talked about the kind of phone that we would get.  I decided on getting him a Blackberry Curve. It would let him text others and not be distracted by other stuff. Virgin Mobile’s was $150 which I found a little steep.  Telus had one for $100 so I decided to make the switch.  He isn’t under contract so I set off to Best Buy and get his phone.  While I was there, I saw they had a Nokia Lumia 520 for Windows Phone for $110.  I was torn over what phone to get but in the end it was the constant barrage of Windows Phone tweets by Darren Sproat that won me over.  I haven’t heard of anyone excited over a Blackberry since 2005.

Nokia Lumia 520

I set it up with Telus who has far inferior pre-paid plans than Virgin Mobile and gave it to Mark.  The next day the phone wasn’t working.  I called back and Telus said that they hadn’t gotten paid.  I had a receipt and a confirmation number from Mastercard and still that wasn’t enough.  It was kind of weird.  

So I took Mark’s phone to Tech Box.  I had never been in there and they unlocked the phone for $20.  It took a couple of days more than they said (the first code was slow coming and then didn’t work) but they told me that one of them would be in the office on a Sunday and to stop by.  We did, they unlocked the doors, and the phone was working.  He was thrilled.

So I set up Mark’s phone for him and I have really come to like it.  It doesn’t have all of the apps that the iPhone or Android does but I was able to get him…

  • Instagram
  • Vine
  • Twitter
  • The Score
  • BBC
  • CBC
  • CNN
  • Metro
  • TuneIn
  • A podcast app
  • Weather app
  • Photoshop

He told me today that he misses having a StarPhoenix app but other than that, he is set.  Internet Explorer isn’t that bad on the phone either.  I didn’t install any games and he is fine with that.  The phone is pretty snappy and the tiles feature of Windows 8 is designed for a phone (and not a computer screen).  It works really well.  I have told a couple of people that while I love my iPhone, I could switch to Windows Phone and be perfectly happy.   Especially when I think that I spent $110 for the phone.

There are some other cool stuff installed for apps like a transit app (that doesn’t work in Saskatoon because we don’t make our route information available like most other cities).  Bing Maps is no better or worse than Apple Maps (actually it is probably better).

So back to Mark.  He’s happy with the phone.  He likes not having a phone with the distractions of games and then frustrated over not getting other things done.  He’s like a lot of 14 year olds but with this phone, he seems to have found a mix of being connected and not being too connected.  We will see how it goes.

Flickr: Oliver

As I mentioned before, I gave Oliver my old Fujifilm J10 for his birthday.  The camera has served me well but it is obsolete and has been replaced.  That being said, it is perfect for a six year old who loves taking photos.

To show off those photos, Oliver is now on Flickr at flickr.com/oliver_cooper.  His perspective is a little lower to the ground than most of us but he manages to get some fun shots.  Since your first 10,000 photos are going to be your worst, he is well ahead of many of us in that regard.

Maggi ready to go to the lake

Of course the bad news is that he still can barely read and doesn’t have a computer.  At the same time he is rather particular about his photos which means that I get to argue with him every time I downtown his card over which photo is any good or not.  So far I am winning (no selfies) but that won’t continue for long.

The weekend that was

On Friday evening we headed to the cabin for what we expected was going to be a wet and miserable weekend.  It was but we had a good time.

Oliver was quite sick on Friday morning which meant that Wendy took the day off.  His daycare has a thing about vomitting kids…  They picked me up at work and we were off to the lake and got in there in decent time.

I am nursing an incredibly sore hip so I hobbled in and went to bed.  The boys took Maggi for a long walk and swim in the lake and I was awoken by a wet dog looking to warm up with someone.  Saturday I picked up Oliver’s flu and felt horrible.  Wendy delegated the job of packing Oliver’s stuff to Mark and he didn’t pack any socks and underwear for Oliver so off to Regina we went.  18km of really soft and sloppy roads were not a lot of fun to drive but we made it to the highway.

The rain kept falling the entire time we were in Regina and the road was a slippery and muddy mess by the time we got back to Cymric.  It was a long slow drive back to the cabin where I managed to lose control once.  Not only that but we realized it was going to rain all night and into Sunday. 

I woke up on Sunday morning to a gift of a photography book by Tom Ang, A Walkable City by Jeff Speck, a Black Rapid camera strap, and an podcast attachment for my iPhone.

Here is Speck speaking to TED.

So yeah the drive home was brutal.  The car was covered in mud and it was hard to keep it on the road.  For those who feel that Saskatchewan should be converting more highways into gravel, I respectfully disagree.  The sand base of that road makes more slippery then ice when wet.  So yeah, let’s pave the entire province. 

Batman Down

So now that Oliver is six, he wants to walk to school by himself.  So today he walked the half block to school and was set to play with his friends.  

For his birthday, Jerry and Gloria gave him a great Lego Batman set with the Riddler, Flash, and of course Batman.  He knows he isn’t supposed to bring toys to school.  They get stolen and he is often heart broken but being six and so very proud of his Batman he did anyways.  You know he lost it.

Lego Batman

I heard him crying on the way home with Mark.  He wasn’t mad but heart broken.  He confessed to me that he had snuck Batman to school and it had gotten lost before he broke down and went to bed.  He was that broken up over it.

I lost things as a kid as well and my dad was an ass about it most times and would lecture me about how irresponsible I was.  Of course I was irresponsible, I was five.  So instead of taking that approach, I logged online and eventually found the Lego Canada store and ordered him a new one.  Of course it was a total ripoff and for what I paid in shipping, I kind of hope the real Batman delivers it in person.

That probably makes me a bad father but it sucks losing stuff as a kid, especially when it is brand new.  He already knows that he shouldn’t have taken his toy to school.  I am not sure punishing him further makes it any better.  It didn’t for me.  I never lost my favourite stuff on purpose.  Neither does he.

The good news is that Oliver is happy and it curled up on the couch lobbying for some leftover birthday cake.  He tells me his stomach doesn’t hurt anymore and is kind of hungry.  

Mission Accomplished.

Happy Birthday Oliver

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to Oliver who turns six today.  Wendy has the highlights on her blog but it’s been an exciting day for him so far.

Happy 14th Birthday Mark!

While the rest of the world celebrates Queen Victoria’s birthday this weekend, we are celebrating Mark turning 14 at the cabin.

He has been saving up for a DLSR camera for months.  When I upgraded my Pentax K-x, he thought I traded it in for a new camera.  Instead I took it upstairs and have been saving it to give him for his birthday.

Pentax Kx DSLR camera

After having the camera’s sensor cleaned, I bought him a new 16 GB memory card and cleaned all of the lens up perfectly (if you don’t have a Lens Pen, you are doing it all wrong).  

Wendy and I had bought him a a new Roots sling camera bag and placed the camera in along with some of my older lenses.  Along with the camera, I gave him this 18-55mm lens that came with the camera, a really sharp manual 50mm lens, a Pentax 100-300 lens, and a Takumar-F 28-80mm manual lens (that to be honest, really sucks) but it will give him a macro to play with.  I have an older Sigma 70-210 lens that I may give him as well but I am awaiting a replacement for it.  Until then he can borrow it.

We also tossed in one of those Eneloop battery chargers and some amazing Eneloop XX batteries (best recyclable batteries on the planet) and a National Geographic magazine

Mark and his Pentax K-x

To celebrate his birthday we are heading north from the cabin for a long nature walk along the shores of Last Mountain Lake where we will hopefully get some shots of some birds and someone can test out his new camera.  I expect you will see some photos of the day as soon as we get back into the city.

Mark blogs about his birthday here.

Is it better to be miserable together or alone

The Atlantic figures it out for us

In isolation, most of us wither psychologically and crumble physically. In 1979, a California epidemiological study showed that the risk of death during a given period among people with the fewest social ties was more than twice as high as in those with the most. Some experts have suggested that isolation, perceived or objective, should be commonly considered alongside things like obesity as a serious health hazard. One study found social isolation was as strong of a predictor of mortality as smoking. People with heart disease are 2.4 times more likely to die of it if they are socially isolated. We could go on and on with these decades of pro-social correlations.

So the point here is relationships are like almonds. We know that if you eat almonds, you increase your odds of living longer—unless you hate almonds so much that eating them sends you into a rage, raising your blood pressure, and you eat them every day until at some point the hypertension eventually causes a stroke. Yes, just like almonds. The objective nature of what’s said or done between people converges with our personalities to create perceptions of that relationship, and that’s what matters and (seems to) significantly influence our bodies. “Certain personality traits may promote the reporting of any social relation as stressful,” the researchers write, “and therefore strong correlations between measures of stressful social relations would be expected.”

Men did seem more physically vulnerable to worries and demands from their partner than did women, which is in keeping with a scientific understanding of men’s health as especially relationship-dependent. Men release more cortisol in response to stress than women do, and marriage has proven more beneficial to men’s health than to women’s. And it was Harry Nilsson, not Mariah Carey, who was first moved to popularize Badfinger’s “Without You” in 1971 by really drawing out the emotive i in the line, “I can’t liiive if living is without you.”

As with gender, costs and benefits of social relationships don’t play out equally across socioeconomic strata. People on the lower end have the highest levels of social stress, which Lund suggests is due to a lack of health-promoting coping strategies among people who have fewer “intrapsychic and social resources.” People disadvantaged by income, education, or occupational status have “higher social vulnerability towards several types of major personal events such as income loss, ill health, divorce and death of a loved one.”

What about me?  I love almonds except that I am allergic to them.  I am so confused as to what to do with my life.  That metaphor doesn’t work for me!!!!!!!!